When Dorothy L. Sayers wrote Whose Body? (her debut novel, published in 1923), she introduced a detective who would go on to appear in 10 more novels and five collections of short stories. Lord Peter Wimsey was no ordinary detective, however. Readers of the stories about this character will soon recognize him as an early example of the “gentleman detective.” But Lord Wimsey’s character goes far beyond his identity as a detective. If you have yet to read one of Sayers’ novels about this sleuth, you may well be asking “Who is Lord Peter Wimsey?”
A Complicated Man
The family history Sayers created for Lord Peter Wimsey is probably more detailed than the history many “real” families are able to trace. I know for a fact that MY family can’t trace its origins back to medieval times. (Supposedly, Lord Wimsey’s ancestry begins with the 13th-century knight Gerald de Wimsey.)
But the details Sayers created for this “gentleman detective” make for a fascinating character. For example, Lord Wimsey’s hobbies include (in addition to criminology) collecting incunabula (books printed during the last half of the 15th century), wine, men’s fashion, and classical music. He also drives a 12-cylinder 1927 Daimler 4-seater.
Lord Wimsey was born in 1890 and is “average” in height, with straw-colored hair and a beaked nose. Sayers once said: “I do not as a matter of fact remember inventing Lord Peter Wimsey …. He walked in complete with spats and applied in an airy don’t-care-if-I-don’t-get-it way for the job of hero.” She later said she had Lord Wimsey wear a monocle – “to complete the picture of the typical aristocrat.” He is also a great athlete, recognized for his skills as a cricket player during his time at Oxford.
As with all heroic figures, Lord Peter Wimsey has a fatal flaw. Because of the trauma he experienced during World War I, when he was injured by artillery fire, he suffered from what we now call PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). The person who helped him survive that eventually became his valet, Mervyn Bunter. The strong friendship between the two men survives throughout all of the stories in which Lord Wimsey appears.
That flaw often causes the detective to relapse whenever a criminal is sentenced to death as a result of his investigations … resulting in serious depression.
So Who IS Lord Peter Wimsey … Really?
Ask any fan of Dorothy L. Sayers’ famous sleuth “Who is Lord Peter Wimsey?” and you may be surprised to learn that he is still very popular in England. On Oct. 8, 1985, The Times of London announced the Golden Wedding anniversary of Lord Wimsey and his bride, Harriet Vane (whom he married in the 1937 novel Busman’s Honeymoon), in its Society page.
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